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Community Voices on Film: Students Collaborate with Local Storytellers

Student filmmakers collaborated with local storytellers to create short documentaries.

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AU students and members of community watch films created in the Community Documentary course.

The lights dimmed in Doyle-Forman Theater as people gathered to watch nine short documentary films created by students in collaboration with community members. The documentaries were created in Laura Waters Hinson’s Community Documentary course, a part of the Community Voice Lab in the School of Communication (SOC). 

Each film focused on a local storyteller and their service to DC area communities; many were involved with community organizations, including longtime AU partners such as Martha’s Table and LAYC Career Academy along with HIPS, Langdon Park Forest Patch, Dinknesh, and Miriam’s Kitchen. Storytellers featured in the documentaries advocated for transgender health, empowered youth through information technology, worked to reclaim Black agricultural heritage, fought to end homelessness, and more. 

Many of the storytellers who participated in the documentaries attended the screening on April 27, some with family, friends, and colleagues. Student filmmakers introduced the storytellers to the audience and several shared their experiences creating the films, explaining the creative input and knowledge they brought to the process. The screening received support from the Center for Community Engagement and Service (CCES) as a part of AU’s commitment to “working with Washington,” strengthening our connections to the DC area community. 

In the center of the image, one of the featured storytellers shares her experience participating in the documentary alongside a student. Members of the audience sit around them in an auditorium.The Community Voice Lab grew out of the Community Voice Project—an initiative started by former AU filmmaker-in-residence Nina Shapiro-Perl—and has grown to support several fellows in addition to the Community Documentary course. The Community Voice Lab aims to capture the voices of community storytellers too often unseen and unheard. The creative ethos of the lab is that of collaboration, rather than extraction, in which student filmmakers and local storytellers work together to tell stories of hope, resilience and determination for the common good. 

Dean of SOC Sam Fulwood opened the screening with remarks on the importance of the Community Voice Lab and Community Documentary course. “We extend ourselves out of the ivory tower and into the community,” said Fulwood. “Students get experiential learning, our scholarship gets out into the community, and the community gets to come inside and see what we’re all about.”